Invasion of the Nervous System.
In vertebrates, the nervous system (NS) is composed of a peripheral collection of neurons (the peripheral nervous system, PNS), a central set found in the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system, CNS). The NS is protected by rather complicated multi-layer barriers that allow access to nutrients and facilitate contact with the peripheral tissues, but block entry of pathogens and toxins. Virus infections usually begin in peripheral tissues and if these barriers are weakened, they can spread into the PNS and more rarely into the CNS. Most viral infections of the NS are opportunistic or accidental pathogens that gain access via the bloodstream (e.g., HIV and various arboviruses). But a few have evolved to enter the NS efficiently by invading neurons directly and by exploiting neuronal cell biology (e.g., rhabdoviruses and alphaherpesviruses). Most NS infections are devastating and difficult to manage. Remarkably, the alphaherpesviruses establish life-long quiescent infections in the PNS, with rare but often serious CNS pathology. In this review, we will focus on how alphaherpesviruses gain access to and spread in the NS, with particular emphasis on bidirectional transport and spread within and between neurons and neural circuits, which is regulated by complex viral-host protein interactions. Finally, we will describe the wide use of alphaherpesviruses as tools to study nerve connectivity and function in animal models.